By Rizal Hashim at Bukit Jalil Stadium
There is always beauty in the game of football, amidst the tangled web of deceit surrounding the Malaysian domestic scene.
The drab draw and poor turnout aside, the highly anticipated Selangor-Singapore rivalry in the Malaysian Super League was renewed after 18 years on Wednesday, with the Stadium Nasional Bukit Jalil bearing witness to two brilliant goals.
Lions XII skipper Shahril Ishak, oblivious to boos from the local fans, had the presence of mind to turn an off-side situation into goal, two minutes before the break.
Receiving a cutback from Raihan Rahman, Shahril evaded Selangor centre-back Asraruddin Putra Omar before unleashing a left-footed shot past keeper Norazlan Razali.
But Selangor were quick to bounce back.
Almost immediately, Amri Yahyah, playing as the sole target man, cushioned a lay-off towards K. Gurusamy, the defensive midfielder who opted to leave the nest of Harimau Muda A to learn to survive in the Super League.
Having earned his stripes under the tutelage of K. Rajagobal since 2004, Gurusamy plucked the courage to strike a volley that even the legends of the 1970s would have been proud of.
Sure the atmosphere, quality and drama of Wednesday’s game were nowhere near compared to the last time the two sides met on a competitive level, the semifinal of the Malaysia Cup in 1994.
Selangor then boasted the twin strikeforce of Azman Adnan and Alistair Edwards, with Hungarian playmaker Zsolt Bucs supplying the ammunition from the middle of the park.
Singapore were equally strong, with the crowd-pulling combo of Fandi Ahmad and Abbas Saad forming a much-vaunted partnership that eventually helped the Lions lift the Malaysia Cup and league double.
To expect today’s generation of footballers to reach and repeat those rarefied moments is virtually impossible but in Shahril and Selangor playmaker Safiq Rahim, we have two talented footballers who would not look out of their depth if being placed in the company of their predecessors.
The state of football in Malaysia, however, is far from healthy.
The week has seen 11 players and a coach, all from the Negri Sembilan President's Cup team last year, getting banned between one and five years for alleged matchfixing.
Coach Yusarman Yusof was banned for life and could only appeal after 10 years.
Despite initiatives from FA of Malaysia, as announced by deputy president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah involving a holistic approach of the 3E concept - enforcement, engagement, education - the root of the cause is societal.
The age-old cliche says the love of money is the root of all evil and that holds true in the case of bribery, be it in football or other spheres of life.
It happens when love for money supersedes other considerations such as human and moral values and love for the game of football.
The biggest worry for all is whether or not this latest happening would cripple a football industry that is beginning to recover its footing after the 1994-95 scandal that rocked the nation.
This is the last thing Malaysian football needs, at a time when the national team is shaping up to be a regional powerhouse.
Could this be the beginning of another sad episode in Malaysian football?